The success of a pollution-fighting pilot program involving pigeons and the Internet of Things has taken flight in a big way.
Pigeon Air Patrol changed the face of air quality data collection in the British capital.
The city has a number of met stations that provide very exact readings, but they are in fixed places, so cannot track air as it moves around. Since people cannot see the dirt and poisons in the air, it is hard to get them to react to it.
But he soon found that hooking pigeons up to a data capture system was easier said than done. For a start, the birds had to be happy flying with sensors on their backs. That meant stripping the already small sensors down to their bare basics, to make them as light as possible. Then tiny jackets had to be built in order to hold the sensors in place. The Pigeon Air Patrol team worked with a racing pigeon owner and a vet to train 10 pigeons to fly with the sensors.
The team released the birds from a number of points around the city, at the height of rush hour every day for a week. The effort paid off.
For the first time, the sensors measured ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and volatile compounds, giving the team important data to show pollution levels right across the city.
The pigeons provided data over the mobile phone network that would have been hard to get any other way, especially since the use of drones is controlled in London. The birds crossed London in about half an hour, a fraction of the time it would have taken to cover the same distance at ground level, and showed pollution levels in the sky above Londoner’s heads.
Perhaps the biggest gain of all, though, was that the Pigeon Air Patrol campaign helped turn air pollution tracking into a top news item. Major news outlets, from The Guardian to CNN, ran the story. As a result, Plume Labs was able to secure people and funding for the next phase of its fight against pollution. This involves having humans wear the sensors, and getting data on an ongoing basis rather than just for a week.
Type of Partnership: Win-Neutral for Public and Planet
For the Public, the pigeons provided previously inaccessible data on man-made pollution levels. Therefore, monitoring air quality and taking measures to neutralize or cause less environmental offense, are not considered to be enriching the Planet in a win-win partnership.